United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (on screen) addresses the international body regarding the ocean treaty adopted by consensus on June 19, 2023, at UN headquarters in New York. EFE/Justin Lane

UN adopts 1st treaty to protect oceans

United Nations, Jun 19 (EFE).- After years of discussion, debate and negotiations, the United Nations member states on Monday adopted the first treaty to protect the high seas, an agreement that will allow for the establishment of protected marine zones in international waters and which ecologists consider to be a basic step toward saving the oceans.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the international body regarding the ocean treaty adopted by consensus on June 19, 2023, at UN headquarters in New York. EFE/Justin Lane

The text of the pact, which was finalized last March after a lengthy negotiating process, was formally approved by the UN after having been reviewed and translated into the six official languages of the international body.

Adoption of the pact was by consensus, without the need for holding a vote, and it was received with a huge standing ovation from the government representatives and ambassadors, clearly pleased to have finished the work.

Hailing the “historic agreement” and calling the oceans “the soul of our planet,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that climate change is disrupting both weather patterns and ocean currents, raising sea temperatures “and altering marine ecosystems and the species living there.”

File photo showing ocean species off the coast of South Africa. EFE/Nic Bothma

Marine biodiversity “is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification,” he said, and “Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels … And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste.”

Although the Monday move puts an end to the UN negotiations, the new treaty will not enter into force until at least 60 countries have signed and ratified it, and presumably this will only occur after discussion, debate and votes in national legislatures.

The text will be available for signing at UN headquarters in New York starting next September 20 and Guterres on Monday asked the governments not to allow the slightest delay to hinder their inking of the document.

For years, environmental groups have insisted that the pact is crucial for saving the oceans, which are threatened by pollution, the climate crisis and new technologies that enable nations and firms to mine at the bottom of the seas and to conduct more intensive fishing activities.

The high seas – specifically, the international waters more than 200 nautical miles from any coastline and which are shared by all countries – account for two-thirds of the planet’s total ocean area, and until now this zone has been managed according to a number of different agreements and by international organizations without clear jurisdiction, without much coordination at all and with inadequate regulations to protect the waters.

The new pact will fall within the existing UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and seeks to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

In addition to other things, the text establishes the foundation for setting up protected ocean areas, a move that should make it easier to fulfill the international promise to safeguard at least 30 percent of the Earth’s ocean areas by 2030.

Moreover, the document ensures that the environmental impact of activities in international waters is taken into account and facilitates cooperation between nations in marine technology.

It also creates a framework for sharing the benefits of the sea, including everything related to marine genetic resources – for example, species that may provide patentable genes for use in medicines and healthcare.

On this matter, the interests of some rich countries – which are the ones with the greatest ability to take advantage of such advances – and those of the developing world, which fear being excluded from reaping the benefits, have collided and this was one of the final issues on which agreement was reached during the marathon negotiations last March.

EFE –/bp